One team is riding a last-second shot, one is coming off a blowout victory and one Cherokee County team will attempt to make program history this week in the state tournament.
Sequoyah is the only boys team remaining from Cherokee County and will look to reach the quarterfinals for the first time, while the Sequoyah girls are looking to ride its momentum from a first-round upset to an appearance in the quarterfinals for the first time since their semifinal run of 2016.
The Cherokee girls are the only county team hosting a second round game this week. The Lady Warriors will be looking to continue their season and take another step toward potential back-to-back semifinal appearances.
All three teams reached the second round under different circumstances.
The Sequoyah girls needed a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by freshman Elle Blatchford to knock off Lanier, while the Cherokee girls beat Newnan by more than 30 points. The Sequoyah boys won a hard-fought game at Gainesville.
Both Sequoyah teams will have long road trips ahead of them this week as the boys will take on Richmond Hill on Thursday and the girls will face Glynn Academy on Wednesday. Cherokee’s girls will host Grayson on Thursday.
SEQUOYAH (23-5) AT RICHMOND HILL (24-4)
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
On the radio: Lowcountryradio.com
First-round results: Sequoyah beat Gainesville 63-53, Richmond Hill beat Morrow 65-53
Scoring leaders: Sequoyah -- Jacksen Greco (19.4 ppg), Richmond Hill -- Jaeden Marshall (12.5 ppg)
Rebounding leaders: Sequoyah -- Dashaun Robinson (6.9 rpg), Richmond Hill -- Jaeden Marshall (4.9 rpg)
Assists leaders: Sequoyah -- Donovan Shipp (6.4 apg), Richmond Hill -- Sheldon Lewis (3.3 apg)
Steals leaders: Sequoyah -- Donovan Shipp (2.3 spg), Richmond Hill -- Sheldon Lewis (2.1 spg)
Blocks leaders: Sequoyah -- Dashaun Robinson (3.6 bpg), Richmond Hill -- Sheldon Lewis (0.6 bpg)
Preview: The contrasting styles of Sequoyah and Richmond Hill should be intriguing as the Chiefs' fast-paced, run-and-gun offense will run up against a Wildcats team which prefers a slower pace and is holding opponents to 46.3 points per game.
Sequoyah is averaging 75 points per game and has four players averaging double figures in scoring, led by Jacksen Greco at 19.4 points per game. Greco is also the team's leading 3-point shooter at 40% on the season.
Despite the differences in styles, Sequoyah coach Allen Carden said being adaptable is paramount.
“I think you have to have a philosophy, but I also think you have to be able to play different styles,” Carden said. “I’ve always thought that was really important because you never know what you’re going to get in a state tournament situation. If we have to grind it out, we will, but we’ll try to get out and run.”
Richmond Hill is riding a 10-game winning streak and was led by Jaeden Marshall and Ethan Pickett in its first-round win. Marshall and Pickett each scored a team-high 15 points against Morrow, but the Wildcats were balanced in their attack, as four players scored in double digits.
Managing the road trip will likely be a key factor to whether Sequoyah can advance to the first quarterfinal in team history. Richmond Hill has lost only twice at home this season, while Sequoyah holds an 11-1 record on the road.
“Their record is very good and they’re very talented,” Carden said. “They play excellent defense, and their best player is a very good prospect. He’s very strong, really takes the ball to the hole well. We’ve been focusing on executing our offense. In the second half of the season, I felt like we really slowed down a little bit, so we’ve been focusing on getting out and running.”
Carden said he has been pleased with the progress of Sequoyah’s defense over the second half of the season, with senior Dashaun Robinson having played a major factor on that side of the court. The 6-foot-3 forward totaled eight blocks in last week’s win over Lanier.
Experience could also play a significant factor as four of Sequoyah’s top five scorers are seniors, while only one of Richmond Hill’s top seven scorers is a senior. Sequoyah senior Donovan Shipp is a four-year starter at point guard, while senior forward Myles McGee may be the Chiefs' most active defensive player.
Sequoyah finished the regular season ranked No. 6 in Class AAAAAA, while Richmond Hill was No. 7.
“The kids are familiar with it and they do understand what’s at stake,” Carden said. “We have talked about that briefly, but, truthfully, we talk about every game going 1-0. From a preparation standpoint, we talk about rebounding and defense, but it really comes down to who can put the ball in the hole -- especially in the state tournament, when points are at a premium.”
GRAYSON (19-9) AT CHEROKEE (26-2)
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
First-round results: Cherokee beat Newnan 71-35, Grayson beat Peachtree Ridge 57-48
Scoring leaders: Cherokee -- Ashlyn Andrus (12.5 ppg), Grayson -- Victoria Dames (14.1 ppg)
Rebounding leaders: Cherokee -- Kate Johnson (10.5 rpg), Grayson -- Malia Grace (10.3 rpg)
Assists leaders: Cherokee -- Chatham Brown (3.5 apg), Grayson -- Nyelle Lee (4.2 apg)
Steals leaders: Cherokee -- Ashlyn Andrus (3.0 spg), Grayson -- Catherine Alben (3.3 spg)
Blocks leaders: Cherokee -- Kate Johnson (3.4 bpg), Grayson -- Malia Grace (1.0 bpg)
Preview: Cherokee has been one of the dominant programs in the state this season, defeating its opponents by an average score of 62-37. The Lady Warriors are riding a 14-game winning streak after another comprehensive victory against Newnan in the first round.
Grayson finished the regular season atop Region 8AAAAAAA, but it lost to Rockdale County in the region tournament. The Lady Rams, however, have rebounded with consecutive wins over Newton in the region tournament and Peachtree Ridge in the first round of the state tournament.
This game will be a rematch of a Jan. 11 game in which Cherokee beat Grayson 52-49 in the Krossover Klassic at Archer.
The familiarity can be a double-edged sword according to Cherokee coach Matt Cates.
“We were in a very close game with them last time,” Cates said. “They’re athletic, well-coached, and we’re going to have to be very solid defensively again. Yes, we’ve seen them, but they’ve already seen us, too.”
One player Grayson did not see in the first game was Cherokee junior center Kate Johnson, who sat out due to concussion protocol. Johnson has been near dominant over the past few weeks, and the matchup between her and Grayson senior Malia Grace should be one to watch.
The 6-2 Grace is an Alabama State signee, while the 6-3 Johnson is a Furman commit. Grace scored a team-high 20 points for Grayson in the first game between the two teams.
“Kate didn’t play in that first game, so I think this will be a good matchup for both girls,” Cates said. “It should be a good battle inside with both big kids.”
The Lady Warriors held Grayson’s leading scorer, Victoria Dames, to five points on 2-for-6 shooting in the first game and will need that kind of effort again. Cherokee has hung its hat on its defense this season, holding opponents to 30 points or less 11 times.
Experience has also played a large role in Cherokee’s success. All six seniors play key roles, and after being tested against a number of tough out-of-region opponents, the competition in the state tournament should be nothing new. Point guard Ashlyn Andrus and forward Sydne Watts should once again be key players for the Lady Warriors.
“I think experience definitely plays a factor,” Cates said. “We’ve played in a lot of big games, but so has Grayson. We’ve been in those situations before, so we feel like we can take advantage of our past experiences. That’s why we pick our schedule the way we do because all those games are state tournament-caliber games. I told our staff, the first time we played Grayson, that was a state tournament-caliber game. It just so happens we’re seeing them again.”
With school being out this week, Cates said he has kept the team’s routine as normal as possible.
“We’re hoping to get some students out, but we know we’ll have our community there,” Cates said. “Playing at home is big for us. I think, when it gets down to this time of year, everyone gets a little extra motivated.”
SEQUOYAH (19-10) AT GLYNN ACADEMY (23-4)
When: 6 p.m. Wednesday
First-round results: Sequoyah beat Lanier 47-46, Glynn Academy beat Mount Zion-Jonesboro 52-28
Scoring leaders: Sequoyah -- Elle Blatchford (11.0 ppg), Glynn Academy -- Zoesha Smith (20.5 ppg)
Rebounding leaders: Sequoyah -- A’ryn Jackson (6.3 rpg), Glynn Academy -- Zoesha Smith (12.5 rpg)
Assists leaders: Sequoyah -- Elle Blatchford (3.4 apg), Glynn Academy -- Talia Hamilton (1.8 apg)
Steals leaders: Sequoyah -- Elle Blatchford (2.8 spg), Glynn Academy -- Talia Hamilton (2.9 spg)
Blocks leaders: Sequoyah -- Kayli Hamby (0.8 bpg), Glynn Academy -- Zoesha Smith (2.1 bpg)
Preview: Sequoyah advanced to the second round on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by freshman Elle Blatchford last weekend, and awaiting the Lady Chiefs this week will be a next-level senior.
Glynn Academy cruised through Region 2AAAAAA this season, winning by an average score of 59-29, and senior Zoesha Smith carried most of the load. The 5-11 forward is a Georgia signee and is averaging a double-double of 21 points and 13 rebounds per game for the second season in a row. Alongside Smith is La’Trinity Best (9.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and guard Talia Hamilton.
“Smith, she’s really good,” Sequoyah coach Chris Yarbrough said. “She’s going to give us a lot of matchup problems. She’s just so athletic. They also have another post who’s playing in college, and then they have a really good guard. We have to do a really good job against those three.”
Glynn Academy beat Mount Zion-Jonesboro 52-28 in the first round, and Smith finished with 24 points, nine rebounds, two assists and one steal. Smith and Hamilton have accounted for 58% of the Red Demons' points this season, and the inside-outside duo will likely be the at the center of Sequoyah’s defensive gameplan.
Sequoyah should take confidence from the fact it held Lanier’s starting post players to nine combined points in the first round. Beyond Blatchford's efforts this season, sophomore A’ryn Jackson and junior Deja Rakestraw have provided a majority of the scoring and rebounding for the Lady Chiefs.
Sequoyah’s primary strength, however, is guard play.
Senior Macy Williams and sophomores Kayli Hamby and Susanna Rogers have complemented Blatchford by providing reliable spot-up shooting. Hamby, whose 61 3-pointers lead the team, is shooting 37% from beyond the arc and, along with Jackson (37%) and Rogers (32%), should play key roles in Sequoyah’s gameplan.
Amy Singh provided Sequoyah with key minutes off the bench when Rakestraw went out with injury last week, though Yarbough said Rakestraw should be back healthy this week.
Blatchford will again be the centerpiece of the Lady Chiefs’ offense.
“Having a kid as talented as Elle covers up a lot of my mistakes,” Yarbrough said. “Every round gets more important, and one of things we’ve been working on with her is making better decisions, and she did such a good job last week. Teams pay so much attention to her, which opens up shots for our other girls. These kids have been so good about going to the hot hand. Elle leads us in scoring, but it’s been rare that we’ve had the same kid lead us in scoring in back-to-back games.”
Whether Sequoyah can advance to past the second round for the first time since 2016 will likely come down to whether its guards can once again make up for the Lady Chiefs' lack of height.
“The running joke around here is we’re just playing another team with size, when we have none,” Yarbrough said. “Defensively, it’s the same game plan we’ve been throwing at people for three months now. Glynn Academy is really good defensively, too, so we’re going to have to space the floor really well and knock down our shots."